Augmentative and Alternative Communication

What is Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)?

Posted on
March 6, 2023
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Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) existed way before devices had a specific brand name on them. These ways of communication were initially used by those in need. While verbal communication is at the forefront, AAC allows others to use non-verbal communication when verbal communication won’t allow them to socialize with the world.

What is AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication)?

AAC is a way for individuals to communicate through uncommon means. Augmentative communication means adding on to someone’s speech, and this is when an individual needs an additional system to communicate since verbal communication is limited. Alternative communication means other ways of communicating, and individuals who are non-verbal will typically need these types of devices that are a substitute for verbal communication.

What are the 3 categories of AAC communication?

There are 3 categories that augmentative and alternative communication can be grouped into. They include the following:

  1. No tech / unaided - using non-verbal forms of communication such as signing or gesturing or pointing to pictures or words that do not require any physical tool
  2. Low tech / aided - helps with communication via communication boards, picture boards, and other visual aids such as communication boards that assist with remembering important places, people, and times.
  3. High tech / aided - using apps to assist with communication as well as speech generating devices - this may include mobile apps and any devices that can assist with speech

Augmentative and Alternative Communication example
Examples of AAC devices

What are examples of AAC devices?

There are many AAC devices that one can access. While any alternative way of communicating including texting can be categorized as AAC, those with significant complex communication needs can be limited to a system that requires eye gaze. There are mid-technology devices that can record someone’s speech and play it back, or devices with limited pre-programmed messages such as GoTalk.

High-technology devices can include a speech-generating device (computer with a voice) or using an app on a tablet or IPAD to communicate with picture messages that generate speech through touch manipulation. Keywords that the individual is learning should be added continuously by all communication partners across settings (represented by pictures, in many cases).

Proloquo2Go and the Tobii Dynavox App are very common and can be utilized through the IPAD, tablet, or phone (android, apple). For those with difficulty with motor skills that limit them from touching the screen, Mouse4All has the technology that allows an individual to use their face to make movements to choose what they want to say without touching the screen.

Who can benefit from AAC?

Anyone who has difficulty with verbal communication can benefit from this! While many people associate AAC with developmental disabilities such as Autism, individuals with other disorders that compromise their ability to be understood verbally can benefit, including:

  • Dementia and Aphasia
  • Progressive disorders such as ALS and Parkinson’s Disease
  • Individuals with Dysarthria (muscle movements in articulators have difficulty)
  • Individuals who have suffered a TBI Traumatic Brain Injury or Stroke

How to optimize the use of AAC?

Many individuals face device fatigue and stop wanting to use their AAC devices after a while. In the beginning, they need to be trained in how to use it. This is why it is important to use families, peers, teachers, and any other important people in the environment to be trained in the use of AAC for the specific individual.

First and foremost, there must be an understanding by all collaborators of the importance of the use of AAC. Once this basic understanding is created, the individuals who are closest to the AAC user can assist with the continuing use of the device in all settings (including the home). One of the most crucial aspects of using AAC is doing a thorough assessment in order to match an appropriate AAC system or device to the person that will be using the device.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication resources:

RCSLT Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Building capacity in AAC: A person-centred approach to supporting participation by people with complex communication needs: Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Vol 35, No 1

Access Methods - Communication Matters

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